By Julian Smith
I’ve spoken on topics such as ‘how to write the perfect CV’ and ‘how to get the perfect charity job’ and recently I took part in a horizon-scanning event at The Open University, talking about what employers look for. There were several people on the panel, including one from the banking sector, and the fantastic thing about that afternoon was how much overlap there was in everybody’s presentations. It made me realise two things: there is less difference between the for-profit and not-for-profit sectors than people realise, and secondly, the advice I’ve been giving people over the years is relevant regardless of the sector…
One of my typical short presentations focuses on the necessary attributes needed to impress, whether you’re writing a CV, a cover letter, completing an application form or at interview stage, and to simplify things, I’ve condensed it to just four things: Passion, Experience, Commitment and Skills – or in other words, your PECS. It’s an easy-to-remember acronym, and sticks in the mind, so I thought that could be a good topic for a blog!
In job-hunting terms, focussing on your PECS is actually a good thing, and will really assist you to get a job. Let’s explore in a little more detail what we mean by each of them:
At application or interview stage you will most likely be asked the question ‘why are you interested in this vacancy?’ which is your cue to demonstrate passion. Failure to do so will inevitably result in the appointment of somebody who shows more interest in the organisation or interviewers.
People generally make the mistake that you can’t demonstrate passion unless you’re face-to-face with someone. Let me make a passionate plea here – in writing – that this is simply not the case. You should allow passion to creep into everything, from emails to phone calls, demonstrating why you are contacting somebody, why you care enough to make a move – and perhaps more importantly, what makes you different from the other 99 candidates who will apply for the job.
There is a word of caution, however, and sometimes you need to keep passions in check! Always remember to modify your passion for the role. If I’m interviewing for a fundraising role or a Chief Executive, I expect (demand?) passion, but if I’m interviewing for a back-office function such as finance or database support, I don’t want to be left with the impression that this role would be a stepping stone to something more exciting.
Finally, remember the saying that ‘people buy people’, and therefore inject a little of your personality into everything you write: it is, after all, the very essence of what makes you unique.
This seems obvious, but people often fail to grasp the correlation between their own experience and that required by their next employer. Even senior candidates struggle to make the most of their experience, and often the more experience a candidate has, the harder it seems to come up with the most relevant examples demonstrating suitability for the role.
If you have a little time over the next few days, why not start your very own data bank of good examples, and add to it each time you think of an example you could use in the future. Then, whether you need to refresh the CV, write a cover letter or prepare for an interview, you’ll have everything to hand.
A tip to remember is that you need to keep examples relevant, and try not to repeat the same ones in the same interview, otherwise your experience will come across as limited. You should also think about your passion when answering questions based on experience. I’ve often sat in on interview panels where we’ve decided that the favourite was just too much of a risk because they were so passionate about roles they’d undertaken in the past – and the passions were so strong it seemed as if their interests lay elsewhere.
As with any other relationship, your future employers will be looking for evidence that you can commit, and that you’re not looking for a one-night stand. Candidates who look non-committal on paper due to long periods of contract or temporary work often find it hard to get shortlisted for interviews for permanent work, so try to think of ways to improve the CV, such as bunching all the temporary work into one section, and only pulling out selected highlights.
This is also the point where your research skills come into their own, since nothing says commitment like the fact that you’ve properly researched into an organisation! If you can demonstrate your knowledge of an organisation, its competitors and the world in which it operates, it proves to a future employer that you understand their world, their challenges and why they need you. Failure to research implies that you haven’t thought about a long-term opportunity, and that you’d be happy with any position in any organisation.
Again, think of this as the beginning of a special relationship: woo your employers, make them feel special…
Skills differ from experience, so don’t get the two confused. Whereas experience is best defined as what you’ve done, skills are best defined as what you’ve learned to do – and both are equally important when applying for a job. You need to demonstrate your capacity to learn from your experience, and your future employers will be looking for evidence that you can apply your experience to a new role: this is where the skills you have learned come in!
Much is made of transferability of skills from one sector to another, but don’t forget that this is equally important from one role to another. The most successful candidates are those who learn how to demonstrate the value of the skills they bring with them, rather than those who just talk about the skills themselves, without explaining how they’re valuable.
We recently filled a contract position with somebody who saw the role advertised on line and then sought out our telephone number to call in and speak to the relevant consultant. On paper she could certainly ‘do’ the job, but it was a generic CV, lacking the passion, relevant experience and commitment (three parts of the PECS) – however, the reason we chose her, and why she was ultimately successful was because she demonstrated her PASSION and COMMITMENT by calling in, and then talked through her EXPERIENCE, explaining how it was relevant. Within 24 hours of that initial call, she had secured the role: a master class in working on your PECS!
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